“Let’s go and pick up Sui and take a look at this thing anyway,” decided Anora at last.
The bridge of the NOMAD Prime had exploded with a blizzard of suggestions and dire warnings about a nano second after she had announced Kala Sui’s discovery of a derelict space ship floating in the Asteroid Belt. Nvar Havas was convinced it was a Chinese vessel, lost in the days of the Communist Revival at the end of the 21st Century.
“They sent out ships that had no way to get back,” he assured the others. “Didn’t give a shit if they died as long as they found metal. It’ll be full of dead bodies.”
Cat Shires was equally certain that it would turn out to be a plague ship, crept off from one of the wacko religious platforms to die in the Void.
“It’ll be swarming with nanites ready to deconstruct organic material on contact,” she whispered. “If we go aboard, we’ll just dissolve.”
Dobbs and Robles were too far away for their input to mean anything. Their comments always arrived fifty seconds after the topic had already changed and they sounded like dim wits trying to keep up with something they really didn’t understand. The only thing that came through loud and clear was that they were both already plotting in courses to rendezvous at Nomad Survey 2, Sui’s module.
“Captain,” Rue started, one hand in the hidden pocket of her pants, the other still holding her medkit, “I believe it might be good to do an initial sweep of the ship. I’m happy to help. Take anything that is exceedingly valuable and easy to carry off, then head to base, and return with more men and equipment for the real salvage.”
That kicked of another heated round of arguments about whether they should board the vessel or not, and who they could trust back at their corporate base on HoJo Ring. The potential value of their find staggered their imaginations, and they all understood that as soon as word of the find got out, it would attract thieves and cheats like shit attracts flies.
Rue waited patiently for the others to talk and discuss. Everything from dragging the ship to leaving now and returning in a few months came up. She mostly stayed quiet after her piece. After all, she was just a medic, her job was to look after anyone who was sick. After much discussion, she waited for her Captain’s orders. If she was going to suit up, and head to the ship, she wanted to know. It seems overall like a good idea to do a quick sweep. Nothing to drastic, and then do something a bit more careful. If they were right, and it was a tried and true alien ship, then they would want to keep it mostly untouched.
“So, Captain, your orders?” she asked when things finally slowed down a bit.
That was when Anora announced her decision to go to the site and take a look see. Her decision made it final. All three ships would maneuver as quickly as possible towards the location beacon installed in the nose cone of Survey Module 2.
Moving through the Asteroid Belt was not a simple task. For the most part, the region between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter is empty space. The laws of gravity, however, and the mechanics of a spinning accretion ring around the sun had assembled a collection of rocky particles in a narrow band about 250,000,000 miles out from the sun. In time these objects, ranging in size from microscopic dust motes to planetoids would probably collect together and form a new planet in the solar system. At the current moment, however, the billions of tiny objects posed a huge risk to navigation. Moving from one point to another in this region of space was not a matter of travelling in a straight line. Any direct course in this seething sea of stones would inevitably intersect the path of something large enough to crush the ship, and even pebble sized objects would punch holes through the thin metal skin that protected them from the harsh environment of deep space if they hit them too hard.
To move around successfully, they had to go slowly and tack from vector to vector. The number of possible routes from one location to another ranked in the millions, though only a handful of those options would offer the combination of speed and safety they required. Havas spent an hour at his navigation consol plotting possibilities. At last he threw a suggested route up on the wide 3D display that normally mimicked a forward view panel.
“This route gets us there in twenty two hours with minimal burns,” he announced. “This one,” he toggled to a shorter but much more jagged line, “gets us there in sixteen hours, but would burn almost twice as much fuel.”
Anora leaned against his station, hitching her butt on the edge of his consol.
“We’ll take the long road,” she said. “Six hours is a small price to pay at this point.”
Havas nodded and started clicking buttons and dragging icons on his touch screen display. The ship started to alter course and everyone aboard could feel the change in direction as the orientation of up and down slowly settled on the ship. Out here there were no objects large enough to create any perceptible gravity. Only acceleration could provide the sense of up and down. Any ship that stopped accelerating would be in zero gravity with everything floating, including your innards. Since very early in the process of space exploration, the micro-gravity environment in space had been recognized as dangerous to living things. Humans could spend days, even weeks in weightlessness and remain healthy. But if that time stretched out into months, the damage done to bones and internal organs became noticeable and permanent.
To compensate for the lack of gravity, ships could accelerate, providing a sense of down that was in the opposite direction to that in which they were moving. But this only lasted as long as the ship continued to go faster and faster. Once the ship stopped accelerating, the down went away. For journeys from one place to another, this was not an issue. Accelerate to the mid-point, flip over and decelerate the rest of the way. Down stayed in the same orientation for the whole trip.
For space stations and ships that wanted to stay in place or coast along at the same speed, the solution was spin. Spin an object around and everything in it wants to fly away from the center of spin. Out becomes down.
On the NOMAD Prime, the spin option for the entire ship really did not exist. There were sections of the ship, mounted internally on axles that could spin and provide a localized gravity effect – enough for the crew to exercise in for several hours a day and avoid the hazards of prolonged micro-gravity exposure, but the main part of the ship lacked any gravity at all during most of its mission as it cruised the edges of the Asteroid Belt, waiting for the Survey modules to report back.
Now that they were underway again, speeding up, the ship seemed to slowly right itself and the cross sectional decks became the floor again as everying inside the vessel took on weight as well as mass again.
Anora keyed a private channel from her cabin to Di Pasqua.
“Step up the exercise routines for us all, doc, while we’ve got plenty of push. I hate getting flabby while we drift. And find out what you can about Cat’s nanites. Did they ever exist outside of the horror movies. And if they did, what can we do to keep them off my ship.”
The comm. went dead for a moment and then the Captain keyed open the line again.
“If this is an alien ship, Rue, I’m going to need you at the top of your game. Get some sleep and then start thinking about how we should approach a potentially toxic environment. Even if there are no nanites, there may be poisonous gasses on board – or alien bugs that’ll crawl up yer crack and take root.
“I need you thinking biohazard, honey.